By Valeh Karikhami, M.D. / For The CurrentAugust 15, 2012
Three months after delivering a baby you feel tired, inadequate and easily distracted. You tell your mom and your best friend, and they say the same thing, "Of course you feel this way! You just had a baby."
You suspect it may be more than that. You don't want to admit it, but you feel difficulty bonding with your new baby. You are irritable and can't sleep – even when the baby dozes soundly. Everyone you see beams at you and your beautiful child and expects you to beam back.But you don't. You can't. What everyone else sees as a "bundle of joy" you just see as a bundle.
Eight out of 10 women experience some emotional volatility after the birth of a baby, and women are far more educated about postpartum depression than they used to be. But that doesn't mean the stigma is gone: When Hoag Hospital set up a Postpartum Depression Group for new mothers, they had to cancel the class for lack of sign-ups. When the same class was renamed "Adjusting to Being a New Mom," it filled up in no time.
At least 80% of women get the "baby blues," bouts of mood swings right after the baby is born. The body is undergoing huge hormonal changes, after all – changes this big won't happen again until menopause. Another 10-20% experience postpartum depression.How do you know the difference?
A good rule of thumb is this: The blues typically come on right after the baby is born, lasts two weeks and ebb and flow throughout the day; postpartum depression creeps up about three months after delivery and grabs a hold of you almost every hour of the day and night. Untreated, it could be a year before you finally shake it.
I experienced the baby blues with my oldest child, who is now 17. A few months after the birth of my second child, I didn't want to get out of bed. Postpartum depression had me in its grips, but medication and therapy allowed me to get back to life – and, most importantly, back to my baby.
By the time my third child was born, I knew what to expect – people who have one experience with postpartum depression are 50% more likely to have a second experience and 80% more likely to have a third. Now pregnant with twins, I am prepared to begin medication and therapy right away.
I have no shame in explaining this to people – nor should any woman going through this. It's a biochemical process, not unlike high blood pressure.
Still, I know women beat themselves up over it. If you had diabetes, you wouldn't yell at your pancreas, "If you just worked harder, we wouldn't have this problem." But that's precisely what women with postpartum depression do all the time.
Instead of being angry or guilty, I suggest exercising, eating well and taking 15 minutes a day to just read a book, talk to a friend, and reconnect with the world. Those simple changes will have a huge effect on your mood. If you find it doesn't – and especially if you have thoughts about wanting to die – seek help immediately.
Most importantly: Tell everyone. Your OB, your pediatrician, your best friend, the dog groomer. Talk to everyone until you get the help you need.
The sooner you get help, the sooner you will be able to rejoin the game. You'll notice the sweet coos you were once too distracted to hear. You'll have the energy and strength to figure out what your baby needs during those 3 a.m. crying jags.
And when strangers smile at you and your stroller, you'll be able to smile back.
Dr. Karimkhani is chief of psychiatry liaison services at Hoag Hospital and an Army reserve major who has served two tours of duty in Iraq.
Hoag has urgent care health facilities or hospitals in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Irvine, Tustin, Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Aliso Viejo, Orange and Anaheim Hills.